Mexico is a religious nation without being a theocracy. But it is still a nation where Catholicism plays a political role – locally, over many issues related to the poor and women.
But a few weeks ago, front-running presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador upped this religious influence to a national level. He pledged to seek for all Mexicans “not only material well-being, but the well-being of the soul” if elected in July.
Lopez Obrador, a leftist, even christened his new party with the acronym Morena – also a name for the popular national patroness of Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Religious symbols are like sports symbols. They convey a distinction that is often also a statement of insiderness, exclusivity and superiority. When you join a gang, all of this happens automatically as soon as you have the relevant predator tattooed on your chest.
Christian nationalism is advancing its agenda in the United States, too. A coalition of Christian-right groups have organized a major legislative initiative called “Project Blitz.” Its goal is to pass a package of “Christian-right bills” at the state level, fusing Christian and American identities. And drawing on the current Scandals R Us administration for support.
This is worrying. Because as comforting as they are for many, religious denominations have come up with some of the worst ideas in human history, troublesome ideas that have wormed their way into politics universally: chosen people (always thought these were white males), infidels (not trustworthy – their headgear is not like mine), holy wars (my God can kick your God’s butt), karma (you’re now a mall cop because you screwed up last time), body mutilations (God giveth, God can taketh away) and the unquestioned iron-age thinking fixed into unalterable eternal truths. (Religious beliefs when added to the dissonance of politics can create unmanageable divisiveness, intolerance, ignorance and even violence.)
The United States, for example, has a “Creation Museum” in Kentucky, a “learning facility” carefully-rendering biblical stories in dioramas as though they were unalterable truths of seminal human history.
A virtual tour of the Creation Museum attempts to enshrine these stories in counterpoint to the science of evolution.
Creationists will tell you that Mr. Darwin’s convoluted math is far-fetched. After a billion trillion random mutations, algae became fish. After another billion trillion mutations, fish walked up on the beach and soon found themselves leaping about in herds, totally puzzled. After yet another billion trillion mutations, the herds decided to stop leaping about and learn to walk upright and brush their teeth.
While the science of creationism is brilliantly simple and without scientific gaps, it proposes a single principle: that nothing starts by itself, unless you have misread the instructions and assembled it improperly. Scientists have a name for this and it appears in every science book ever written. It’s called Point A. You will never find anything more scientific than Point A. And we know who He is.
Every reasonable person accepts that scriptural stories from all religions are largely allegorical. My question is this: why has no politician in my lifetime ever come out and said, “I’m just not ready to accept people soaring into heaven, either on really good running shoes or on horseback. But I respect your freedom to believe whatever you like.” Atheists and agnostics have long suffered a form of “religious” bigotry which insinuates that they are amoral or even immoral leaving them on the periphery of political thought.
Religions have fixed unchangeable doctrines. Politics requires a thoughtful exchange of ideas and new considerations about how to deal with social and technological change. Adam and Eve, for instance, cannot become symbols for families taking advantage of the system and then being left to their own devices for their own good (a conservative notion).
If atheism were embraced like other minorities and not spurned, there could be a vast treasure of reason and good sense that could enlighten political thinking and produce a more tolerant social order. There are many global examples of exclusively secular rule and they work. Such a strange paradox.